Blue Slate Turkeys are named for the beautiful blue slate color of their plumage. This is a complex genotype, however, and the breed actually has three color phases: the Slate (pictured) which is blue with black specks, a pure black, and a pure bluish gray. They are medium sized turkeys and very good foragers, consuming great quantities of insect pests.

Brief History of Blue Slate Turkeys

The turkey is one of the few domesticated animals native to the Americas. It was first domesticated in southern Mexico some 2000 years ago. The Conquistadors found large numbers of domesticated turkeys when they arrived in the 1500s. They were sent back to Europe as part of the explorer’s bounty and rapidly spread through out Europe. When the Europeans colonized North America, they brought the turkey back across the Atlantic with them. The Eastern wild turkey was very common back then, and soon the domestic turkeys were breeding with the larger wild turkeys, creating vigorous hi-bred stocks. During the 1800’s turkeys were commonly found on farms across America. They were easy and economical to raise, plus provided natural pest control as well as fertilizer. Various turkey varieties were developed during this time since the turkeys free ranged and the different feather patterns helped farmers identify their birds. In the fall the turkeys would be sold live in markets. The farmers would get typically walk their birds to the market in large flocks known as ‘turkey trots’.

Turkeys were raised on open range into the early 1900’s. The significant demand for turkey meat, however, encouraged the development of larger, meatier birds and by the 1930s broad breasted varieties began to dominate the turkey industry. These specialized meat birds, developed through intensive selection, required equally intensive management, and open range rearing ceased in favor of production rearing inside large turkey barns. The traditional turkey varieties, once common throughout America, became increasingly rare and today many are close to extinction.

Blue Slate Turkeys have a fairly obscure origin. They have never been very common, and their first mention in literature appears in the 1800’s. They were recognized as a standard breed by the American Poultry Association in 1874. The Blue Slate variety comes in three color phases, solid black, solid blue and blue flecked with black spots. The blue coloring results from either of two different gene mutations, one recessive and the other incompletely dominant. This genetic complexity not only makes characterizing the breed difficult, but breeding them is also a challenge since some color variations breed true and others don’t. The breed is one of the most colorful of all standard turkeys and a flock of Blue Slate turkeys foraging on an open range is a beautiful sight indeed.

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